Discover how Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESSs) are pivotal in the UK's journey towards a fully decarbonised power system by 2035. Learn about the safety regulations, permissions required, and the challenges hindering their development.

29 April 2024

Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESSs) are demonstrating a new era in the UK's energy sector, revolutionising the way electricity is stored and distributed. Primarily utilising batteries, notably lithium-ion batteries, BESSs play a crucial role in storing surplus electricity during peak supply periods and releasing it during times of high demand. This flexibility is key to the government's ambitious target of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

With renewables like wind and solar power heavily reliant on weather conditions for electricity generation, the need for technologies capable of responding to fluctuations in supply and demand becomes paramount. Hence, BESSs are positioned as indispensable components of a decarbonised power system. The government anticipates a surge in demand for grid energy storage, projecting figures of 10 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2030 and 20 GWh by 2035.

However, the journey towards widespread BESS adoption is not without its challenges. Grid-scale BESS installations necessitate planning consent, with decision-making processes varying across different regions of the UK. While England and Wales delegate decisions to local planning authorities, Scotland and Northern Ireland require consent from either ministers or the planning authority based on storage capacity.

Safety concerns surrounding BESSs, particularly regarding the fire risk posed by lithium-ion batteries, have gathered attention. Although incidents are rare, the potential for thermal runaway, especially in damaged batteries, remains a focal point. Nonetheless, advancements in battery design and safety protocols, including the integration of fire suppression systems, mitigate such risks.

Regulation-wise, while there are no specific laws governing BESS safety, individual batteries must adhere to product safety regulations, and grid-scale facilities must comply with fire safety and health laws. In response to safety concerns, the government has bolstered its regulatory framework and issued guidance encouraging collaboration between developers, planning authorities, and local fire and rescue services.

Despite the promising prospects, barriers to BESS development persist. Challenges such as insufficient domestic manufacturing capacity for batteries and reliance on imports for critical minerals like lithium pose significant hurdles. To address these issues, the government has outlined strategies to secure the battery supply chain and enhance critical minerals resilience.

Moreover, high upfront capital costs, uncertain revenue streams, and delays in grid connections impede BESS deployment. In a bid to overcome these obstacles, the government has rolled out an action plan to expedite grid connections and solicited feedback on facilitating investment in long-duration storage.

In conclusion, BESSs represent a cornerstone in the UK's transition towards sustainable energy. As the government navigates regulatory frameworks and tackles development barriers, the potential of BESSs to reshape the energy landscape remains undeniably promising.

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